Lately, many of my clients have been mentioning painful joints. Since we’ve had such widely changing weather here heading into winter, I ask them if their pain correlates to weather changes. Most say that it does. So, what causes this? And, is there anything we can do to ease this pain?
Reasons Why Cold Weather Can Make Your Joints Hurt
There is no one reason for cold weather causing painful joints. There are many theories. And, there may certainly be some validity for each one. Here are the most common theories.
1. The body’s natural response when getting cold kicks in. To keep vital organs warm, blood moves toward them and away from extremities. This results in less fluid in connective tissues and joints in general, which leads to them getting stiff.
2. Changes in barometric pressure cause an “inflammatory reaction” in connective tissues surrounding joints. These changes in barometric pressure cause expansion and contraction of tissues – bone, tendons, scar tissue, etc. – which results in pain, most likely because these expanded tissues press on nerves reporting pain.
3. Cold temperature causes joint fluids to become thicker, therefore not lubricating the joints as well, making them stiff and painful.
4. When we get cold, we tend to stay inside where it’s warmer. We don’t physically move as much. Not moving causes our joints to get stiff and any underlying issues (arthritis, scar tissue build up, etc.) make their presence known through pain.
5. Mind over matter, or psychosomatic symptoms. The perception of pain is altered depending on the mood. We feel better emotionally when it is warm and sunny. Our disposition suffers when the weather turns cold and dreary. This leads to psychosomatic pain.
What to Do to Ease the Pain
So, what can we do to help ease the pain? There are several tried and true methods. (Also, doctor-recommended!)
1. Keep warm.
Clothes – Wear warm enough clothing and layers.
Heating pad – When you’re getting ready to be active, try using heat on those painful joints to prepare them to move.
Hot bath – Take a nice hot soak in the tub, not too hot, and preferably with Epsom salts. There are many claims of health benefits of the two main properties of Epsom salts – magnesium and sulfate. And, many world-renowned health institutes recommend soaking in Epsom salts for various ailments, most notably muscle and joint pain.
Exercise has been proven to help lessen, and in some cases get rid of arthritis pain. It also works to help achy joints due to cold weather. Exercise will warm you up, get good fluids to your joints and help ease that joint pain. Make sure you dress warmly if you’re exercising outside. Exercise inside if it is too cold outside. And, warm up a little extra before really pushing it. Cool down and stretch after your workout. The more normal range of motion you can keep around your joints, the better.
3. Build up strength.
By gaining muscle strength, you will put less stress on your joints. So, not only does exercise, in its various forms, warm your body, if you do strength training, you will be improving your body’s structural integrity.
4. Avoid inflammatory foods.
The worst culprit in the inflammatory foods category is sugar. And, there are at least eight more foods and ingredients on the list which should be considered — saturated fats, trans fats, omega-6 fatty acids (various oils, including vegetable oil), refined carbohydrates (white bread, potatoes,& some cereals), MSG, gluten and casein, Aspartame (artificial sweetener), and alcohol. These all increase inflammation in your body.
5. Drink water.
Stay hydrated. Drink water. The recommended amounts vary. Refer to my post from May 2018, “3 Ways to Help Yourself Stay Hydrated This Summer”, to learn how to tell if you’re drinking enough water. Dehydration is not only a hot weather problem. It can strike all year.
6. Ice painful joints.
I know that applying ice may seem counterintuitive. However, icing a painful joint is a very good way to bring down inflammation. I recommend using ice on your painful joints after exercise, or any other time you’ve irritated that joint. Make sure there is some cloth (thin towel is fine) between you and the ice, and leave on the area for no longer than 20 minutes. Also, it is okay to warm it up again after you’ve iced that painful joint.
Follow these tips to keep your pain in check this winter. The more you can do naturally, the less you need to use OTC or prescription drugs for the pain. These drugs are hard on your organs, specifically your kidneys. But, there are other side effects of anti-inflammatory and pain medicines to consider, too. These include stomach problems, ulcers, heartburn, headaches and dizziness, allergic reactions, high blood pressure, and an increased tendency to bleed more. See your doctor if you are unsure about how to treat your pain.
Let this winter be the winter you decide to work with the cold and not against it. Learn to help your body adjust to the cold temperatures and work efficiently to hold aches and pains at bay. I recommend trying the natural remedies listed above, especially exercising. Get out and enjoy some winter activities!
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